The QT

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Charity urges rethink on plan to ban zero hours 

Amid the calls for zero-hour contracts to be abolished by a future Labour government, some warn making them illegal may have unintended consequences. Stewart Carr reports

The head of a leading North East charity has issued a warning about the consequences of an outright ban on zero-hour contracts.

A future Labour government would introduce such a ban as part of their flagship workers’ rights proposals —  proposals which were agreed last July and reaffirmed this week during a meeting of senior party leaders and union bosses.

Stephen Bell, CEO of the charity Changing Lives, which helps some of the most vulnerable in society, has first hand knowledge of the benefits that zero-hour contracts can bring.

He is now writing to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to spell out how his staff benefit from zero-hours and highlight the people such contracts are helping to transform their lives.

Stephen said: “While we commend efforts to improve working conditions, abolishing zero-hour contracts could have significant implications for both employers and employees. Changing Lives, with over 600 staff, relies on zero-hour contracts for 15 per cent of our workforce. These contracts are vital for managing costs and delivering services beyond homelessness support.

“Over 50 per cent of individuals on zero-hour contracts in our organisation are students who value the flexibility to balance work with their studies. Additionally, with 70 per cent of our workforce being female, many employees actively choose to or remain on zero-hour contracts due to their need for flexibility, particularly for caregivers.

“Zero-hour contracts have allowed us to effectively manage costs instead of using external agencies and provide vital services to communities across the country.”

Stephen Bell is urging a rethink on Labour’s workers’ rights proposals

Stephen said the flexibility had been crucial in attracting and retaining staff. “Many employees actively choose to remain on zero-hour contracts for the flexibility they offer,” he said.

A Changing Lives employee said: ” I saw a a job opening here and felt drawn to it due to my lived experience. I chose to work a zero-hour contract for multiple reasons such as being a volunteer for another organisation. The flexibility within my contract ensures I can continue being a volunteer which is something I did not want to give up.

“There are also other reasons such as my health. I cannot work full-time so being able to plan my own hours and days has been a blessing. This type of contract works great for me and it’s likely that without this option I would not be able to work at all.”

The charity fears banning the contract could lead to higher labour expenses, which would be ‘unsustainable’ for Changing Lives.

Labour’s position on reforming workers rights was agreed with union leaders ahead of the National Policy Forum last July.

In recent weeks, there had been concern from Unite and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) that the Labour leader was intending to reduce the extent of his party’s employment reforms amid lobbying from businesses.

This ‘watering down’ of the proposals was thought to include an opt-in to zero-hours contracts. But, following a meeting on Tuesday (Mar 14), a joint statement from Labour and the affiliated unions, said: “Together we have reiterated Labour’s full commitment to the New Deal for Working People as agreed in July. We will continue to work together at pace on how a Labour government would implement it in legislation.”

Stephen, who has been CEO of Changing Lives, formerly known as The Cyrenians, for more than 28 years, said: “We urge a balanced approach that protects workers rights while preserving charitable sector viability.”

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